Involving Youth in Climate Action

Walking with Gorillas
Book Review:  Walking With Gorillas by Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka
10th October 2023
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When I was little, my father encouraged me on my affinity to protecting the environment – especially coming from a coastal village. My mother encouraged me in my belief in individual rights, accountability and wisdom from different generations. These teachings would afterwards build me into becoming an environmental guardian. My need for environmental justice does not stem because I am a second born – you know – but from the fact that knowledge of the environment, from two different tribes, was impacted to me from a young age. And, that was my first touch of understanding intergenerational concepts.

Why is this important to understand? My upbringing played a big role in who I am today. Through life’s different phases, I can say I have had the privilege of knowing the relevance of protecting the environment. Of course, this knowledge and experience modify as I grow. I have gained, shaped and re-shaped my views. Being at the last, say “years of my youth”, I reflect on the different changes that have happened in incorporating youth in climate and environmental matters. Therefore, it was an awesome and added experience when I participated in the 2023 Local Conference of Youth (LCOY) earlier this month. 

LCOY Kenya took place on the 3 to 5 October. LCOY Kenya is a national version of the Global Conference of Youth (COY) 18 and is endorsed by YOUNGO, the official Youth constituency of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Its main objective is to build capacity and develop the Kenyan Youth Statement ahead of the Twenty-Eighth Conference of Parties (COP 28) in the UAE. This year’s event was hosted by the Kenya Climate Change Working Group (KCCWG) and the Africa Youth Initiative on Climate Change (AYICC) are hosts of this youth climate conference. The main theme of LCOY – Kenya was youth-led climate action: bridging the gap between policy and practice.

I was honoured to be among the panellists at the High-Level Intergenerational Baraza, where the discussion centred on promoting and engaging an inclusive dialogue between different generations on climate change issues. Working as an attorney in the environmental sector, for the last seven years, I have seen the need for promoting Intergenerational equity. Categorically, I am still a youth under the Kenyan system, while in other regions I may be not. But that is not the main part here. From my standpoint of, being ushered into the category of “older youth”, my mind has been open to the different advantages and disadvantages of different age groups in the “youth” category, and in growing older, this changes – that is why my friends call me dynamic! Let me not digress. In that conversation, I could see the why behind every youth comment as well as ones from the older generations. The discussions illuminated, in my opinion, three key aspects. 

One is realizing that social and economic aspects play a huge role in the implementation of intergenerational equity actions. Social and economic aspects in this sense are on how youth from different backgrounds can do climate action. For example, youth that may have access to resources and education enables them with tools which they can develop or support climate activities while those without may find it a bit harder to start. Another example may be the environment a person grows up in which plays a heavy role.

Two, knowledge and skill are still integral in all generations. The challenges brought up included inadequate spaces that nurture youth involvement in climate action as well as youth themselves inadequately taking individual initiative. This mostly centred around youth taking an active role in obtaining knowledge which in turn enables them to push for actions, and other generations create the required space. 

Three is understanding of systems in place and how to tap into those systems, to ensure youth inclusion in the climate and environmental space. These include areas where there are gaps in enhancing knowledge of laws, policies and practices, that that the youth need to incorporate in their climate actions.

Afterwards, in other sessions, it was very encouraging to see the dialogue evolve to include issues of corruption, an area which I advocate for. Understanding the nexus between corruption and climate change; and the effects of corruption on implementing climate actions is part of the processes in tackling climate change. (See my article here on corruption.)

It was also notable from the discussions that while public participation tries to be inclusive, issues of implementation and corrupt activities, end up draining most funds required to implement any actions. Therefore, I identified a skills need of having capacity building activities on how youth and community can hold the responsible parties accountable, either through exercising their rights as citizens, drafting memoranda or participating in public hearings. Having, I would term it as a soft technical skill, provides a progressive method where youth can adequately contribute to reforms and build a coalition of sorts where youth support each other, which reduces the challenges that crop up in youth working in silos. 

In conclusion, the time to having these sessions was short and sweet. One conversation, one talk, is amongst the first steps in addressing how to better involve youth in climate action as well as individual actions for youth to take charge in the space. While on the road to COP 28, the relevance of youth cannot be ignored. 

Mary Morrison is a young vibrant, dynamic, and creative Advocate with an innate passion for environmental and wildlife protection and good governance. With a background in law and experience working as an environmental and governance advocate, she stands for environmental and social justice.

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